Does Montessori Encourage Pretend Play?

Parents and teachers have always been interested in how different ways of teaching affect how a child grows and learns. The most important idea in this discussion is the idea of pretend play, which is a natural part of childhood but has important effects on cognitive and emotional growth. 

But where does pretend play fit into Montessori education? When discussing the Montessori method, people often think of structured activities, learning tools, and a specially made environment. But people are becoming more interested in "Montessori pretend play" as more parents and teachers try to figure out how it fits into this well-known educational theory. Through this blog, we set out on a journey to find out what Montessori thinks about pretend play and explain it. 

Pretend play in child development's context

The world a child makes up in their head is both charming and very strong. Here, things that aren't alive come to life, ordinary rooms turn into grand kingdoms, and the lines between reality and fiction are easily blurred. This world, often shown through pretend play, is not just a game for kids. It's an important part of growing up and is rooted in the early years.

At its core, pretend play, also called symbolic play or imaginative play, lets kids' makeup stories, take on parts, and act them out. Seems like the plot is set in a live theater based on what a child has seen, felt, and learned about the world around them.

From a developing point of view, pretend play has many benefits:

  • Cognitive development: Children who play games use their ability to think in symbols. A banana turns into a phone, and a cardboard box turns into a spaceship. This way of thinking helps children learn language and reading skills because they understand that symbols, like words, can represent real things and ideas.
  • Social Skills: When kids play pretend, they often play with other kids. As kids go through these made-up situations, they learn how to negotiate, solve problems, and see things from different points of view. They know about sharing, being a leader and follower, and safely resolving issues by playing together.
  • Emotional Expression and Control: Pretend play allows kids to discuss and work through feelings. Whether acting out a scary situation or playing house with happy family roles, they are learning to understand, talk about, and control their emotions.
  • Problem-solving: In made-up situations, there are often problems to solve. Maybe the "tea" got all over the place, or the "dragon" needs to be calmed. As kids come up with answers to these made-up problems, they improve their ability to think critically and make good decisions.
  • Empathy-Building: Taking on different parts, like a doctor, a teacher, or even an animal, lets kids put themselves in the shoes of someone else, helping them feel empathy and understanding for other people.
  • Motor Skills: People often forget that pretend play can also include physical tasks like "cooking," "building," and "fighting off pirates." Children use their hands and bodies in different ways, which helps them develop both fine and general motor skills.

Montessori's Point of View in Pretend Play

Dr. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori method at the beginning of the 20th century. It is a model of education that puts the child first. She based this method on observing children of different ages and backgrounds. It respects the child as a naturally eager learner and stresses how important it is to make the learning setting fit the needs of each child as they grow. But where does pretend play fit into this carefully planned structure?

  • The "Prepared Environment": Montessori classrooms, often called the "prepared environment," are carefully set up to help students learn independently, encouraging freedom, focus, and responsibility. In this kind of setting, the focus is on activities with a reason. These are called "practical life exercises."  These things, like pouring, spooning, and buttoning, may seem boring to an adult, but they are full of possibilities to a child. In a way, they can "pretend play" by acting like adults, but they have to do it in a very organized and practical way.

  • The Role of Materials: Montessori materials are real, can be touched, and have a function. Dolls could replace traditional toys, but Montessori settings use small models of people or animals that accurately represent their anatomy.  The focus is on giving the child real-world experiences that settle them in reality and lay the groundwork for later abstract thinking. This doesn't mean that they can't be creative. On the other hand, the Montessori method thinks that a strong base, in reality, makes pretend play outside of these structured activities more profound and enjoyable.

  • Freedom within Limits: Giving children "freedom within limits" is a key part of the Montessori concept. Even though the environment is set up, the kids actively choose their tasks, explore at their own pace, and actively use their imaginations as they do so. It might not always look like the standard "pretend play," but it's a way for a child to show what's happening in their mind and how creative they are.

  • Addressing the Intangible: Dr. Montessori thought that giving children concrete experiences would help them understand vague ideas in the long run. She saw the worth in pretend play but felt that providing children with real-life experiences would feed their souls more deeply. For example, a kid in a Montessori environment would be encouraged to do real-life things like cooking, cleaning, and gardening instead of playing "house."

  • Respect for Individual Development: The Montessori method understands that each child is different and that their interest in pretend play will vary. Even though the environment is structured, children's spontaneous bursts of imagination aren't discouraged. Instead, it seems like a normal part of their growth.

Real-world examples of how pretend play is included in Montessori rooms

Even though the Montessori method emphasizes real-world experiences, there are many times when children's imaginations come to life in Montessori rooms. Here are some examples and case studies that show how Montessori settings include pretend play:
  • The Miniature Environment: A 4-year-old girl named Lily uses the "miniature environment" in her Montessori room. This is a small house with different rooms and tiny furniture. As she moves the furniture around and moves the small family figures, she acts out things she knows about family life. Lily's story mixes her real life and imagination, even though the materials are based on real life.

  • Role-playing with Practical Life Activities: 3 kids decide to "make breakfast" together during the morning work cycle. They get Monty Sensory Playset from the actual life shelf and use a cloth to wipe and clean. Even though they aren't spilling real tea or milk, they are having a breakfast party in their minds.

  • Storytelling with Zoology and Botany:  For example, children in a lower elementary school often use zoology and botany cabinet figures to make up stories. One time, Jack makes a story with animal figures in which a lion becomes the guardian of the forest and ensures all the animals can live together in peace.

  • Sensorial Imagination: Mia, age 5, builds a grand "castle" out of the famous Monty pink tower and wide steps. She acts like it's her house and tells stories about the fun she and her friends would have there. The sensorial materials, meant to be used by hand to learn about different dimensions, become the tools in her creative story.

  • Cultural role-playing: Kids learn about different cultures worldwide in a Montessori school. A group of students plays out a market scene from an African village using costumes and artifacts from the culture shelves. They will trade goods, say hello to each other, and even sing traditional songs.

  • Language arts and creativity: The Montessori method teaches grammar with symbols that are bright and can be touched. In a classroom for kids in upper elementary school, they use these symbols to make up their own stories. Nathan imagines a world where these symbols come to life at night, each with its personality and levels.

  • Land and Water Form Trays: Children often use these trays to tell stories, even though they aim to teach about land and water forms in geography. Sara uses the 'island' and 'lake' trays to make up a story about a magical creature that lives on an island and protects the lake's secrets.


Looking at pretend play through the Montessori lens has been exciting and thought-provoking. So, does Montessori support pretend play? The answer is not simple. Even though the Montessori method might not value pretend play as much as standard schools do, this does not mean it is unimportant.

Montessori settings try to give children real-world, hands-on experiences. This solid grounding, in reality, makes it possible for the seeds of creativity to grow and grow. Children's natural creativity comes out in Montessori classrooms, whether through role-playing with practical life tasks, making up stories with real objects, or making up stories based on what they learn about other cultures.

So, it's not a question of whether or not Montessori education supports pretend play. Instead, it's about how the method combines and channels creative expression uniquely, weaving it together with real-world experiences in a seamless way. 

What happened? A whole-child method to development, where fantasy and reality coexist, and children are taught to be both dreamers and doers.

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